Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: First Book

For All Those Folks Who Thought They Could Never Finish a Novel…

I’ve written one novel and you can have a free copy

I had an extremely strong burning desire to write it so I had no particular problems finishing it; yet, many folks who deeply desire finishing a novel discover it a year later, stuck in a drawer…

I don’t know if I’ll write another novel—busy now with short tales—but, if I decided to, I’d heed the advice in a particular article in the The GuardianHow to finish a novel: tracking a book’s progress from idea to completion.

If you’re new to this blog, realize I’m mostly a “tricky” reporter—I give you just enough info to make you {hopefully} take the link I provide :-)


“When Wyl Menmuir sat down to write his first book, he was well aware it was something many aspire to but few achieve. ‘I knew I needed help to avoid it being just a stack of paper that sat in my bedside drawer. I know too many people who have written half a novel’, he says.”

The best laid plans………

“Menmuir realised early on that he would need every tool at his disposal to finish his first novel. Having trained as a journalist he decided he would work better with a deadline and set himself a goal of writing 500 words a day, five days a week.”

“Had Menmuir stuck to his self-imposed deadlines the 44,242-word novel he eventually wrote could technically have been written in just 124 days…”

“Within just nine days of setting out to write, he had his first realisation that his 500-words-a-day goal might not work out. Although he didn’t know it at the time, it would actually be one year, 10 months and two days before the novel was complete.”

And, here are the topics covered about what he learned:

Embracing the feel-good moments

Procrastinating (well)

Downing tools

Celebrating milestones

This is a very comprehensive article; plus, when you see the graphs with the author’s image, pause, because they have his comments about various stages in the writing show up; and, it takes a few seconds to see all the comments

I hope you read (or, encourage a writer friend to read) the full article

Do you feel like there’s a novel inside you?
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Creating a Literate World


“Literacy is transformative: it increases earning potential, decreases inequality, improves health outcomes and breaks the cycle of poverty.”

Just in case you didn’t know, UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, based in Paris, France.

And, they organize World Book Day (held April 23 in some places…)

Amazon is jumping in to help three literacy organizations this year:

First Book, Room to Read, and Worldreader

I’ve never written about the first two; but, this makes the 10th post about Worldreader (to read them all, click here…)

I got an email today from Worldreader about a new program they’re kicking off on Sunday, April 23rd:

Digital Book Drive

If you take that last link you’ll find 6 e-books that you can donate for $1.00 each and have them sent directly to students in Ghana and Kenya

 Oh! You can also decide to send multiple copies of each book to multiple students :-)

It looks like it might be only for folks in the U.S.A.; but, they do accept Dollars, Euros, and Pounds

And, the books (as you’ll see if you take the last link) are stories that take place in the country the students are from

Worldreader is headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Barcelona, London and Accra.

If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
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Free E-books for Underprivileged Kids

I receive periodic newsletters from Publishing Perspectives.

The most recent let me know about a new initiative that “offers unprecedented access to quality digital content, including a catalog of eBooks valued at more than $250 million.”

That last quote is from Digital Public Library of America and I do hope that folks from countries other than the USA will let me know in the Comments if anything like this is happening in their country :-)

Another quote from DPLA:

“A coalition of literacy, library, publishing and technology partners joined together to make the Open eBooks program possible. The initiative’s partners — Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), First Book, and The New York Public Library (NYPL), with content support from digital books distributor Baker & Taylor — created the app, curated the eBook collection, and developed a system for distribution and use. They received financial support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and content contributions from major publishers. National Geographic announced today that they will provide all of their age-appropriate content to the app, joining publishers Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Cricket Media, Hachette, HarperCollins, Lee & Low, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster, who made commitments providing thousands of popular and award-winning titles last year.”

The actual program for the kids is called Open eBooks.

From their site:

“Open eBooks is an app containing thousands of popular and award-winning titles that are free for children from in-need households. These eBooks can be read without checkouts or holds. Children from in-need families can access these eBooks, which include some of the most popular works of the present and past, using the Open eBooks app and read as many as they like without incurring any costs. The goal of Open eBooks is to encourage a love of reading and serve as a gateway to children reading even more often, whether in school, at libraries, or through other eBook reading apps.”

And, there are provisions for kids who don’t have e-reading devices:

“NYPL created the app enabling children to read eBooks on a wide variety of devices, including tablets donated as part of the President’s ConnectED initiative and on smartphones increasingly used by Americans at all income levels.”

“First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that provides access to millions of brand new, high quality print books and other educational resources to classrooms and programs serving children in need. First Book is providing full access to Open eBooks to every educator in its Network, and will distribute access codes for Open eBooks to educators serving children in need at”

And, for those deeply interested, here’s a link to Open eBooks’ FAQ page
If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
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Grab A Free Novel…
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Author Interview ~ Shannan Sinclair

Once again, the site BlogTour has helped an author hook up with me for an interview.

The author is Shannan Sinclair and she’s been gracious enough to give us a detailed and fascinating interview; plus, a link to three free chapters of her book!


Shannan, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I think I have been enamored with the idea of writing since I started reading. I have had a paper and pen fetish since I was three years old, sometimes going into Office Max just to sniff the aroma of pulp. I have collected and filled a hundred journals over the past 40 years, played with being a poet and was an avid letter writer before the advent of the internet.

Writing a novel was always on my “bucket list,” but it seemed too daunting a task—like trying to run a marathon when you are winded by the end of the block. So I started a small training program: daily journal writing, consistent blogging, and writing and publishing magazine articles about my journaling process. Finally, in November 2010, I felt I had the fortitude and endurance to tackle my novel.

Though I have been a writer all along, I finally considered myself a real writer when the first proof of my book was delivered to my doorstep.

What genre do you consider your writing to be?

In terms of traditional classification, I categorize it as paranormal science fiction, but personally, I call it quantum fiction, a blend of visionary fiction mixed with the science behind quantum mechanics.

Traditional sci-fi explores the mechanical, three dimensional worlds, often using space crafts and plausible technology. Traditional paranormal fiction has come to be equated with vampires, ghosts, and other fantastical creatures.

Visionary fiction has been described as fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot. It is driven by our more ephemeral, mystical experiences, phenomena that don’t fit into the confines of logic, but can be explained through the new sciences of quantum mechanics and possibly string theory.

Increasingly, we are discovering the power and limitlessness of the uncharted human mind. I wanted to create a parable of sorts that explored those ideas within the trappings of a conspiracy thriller.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Aislen, Raziel, and Sergeant Mathis have tiptoeing around in my head since 2001, sometimes rather loudly. I sat down to write Dream Walker the first time in 2003 and got about 12,000 written, a solid start. But a severe writer’s block locked me up and I set it aside. I tried again in 2005, but remained stuck, really only moving the words around of that original 12,000.

In June of 2010 a series of events rocked my world and threw my life into a downward spiral. I reached a very dark place and really questioned my very existence and purpose in life. While hiding under my bedcovers, I literally heard a voice. “It’s time,” was all it said.

Whether it was an angel, a spirit guide, or God itself, who knows, but in that one second, I knew everything it was telling me. It was time to get out of bed and write my book. I also knew in that instant that what I had written prior was the second book, not the first, which was why I couldn’t get past it.

I climbed out of bed and started to write. It literally saved my life.

Your first book takes place in your hometown, Modesto, California. Would you share the reason?

Absolutely. I have a theory about Modesto. It is often labeled as one of the worst cities in which to live, and not without reason. It is number one in such categories as meth production, number of cars stolen, worst air quality, high crime rate, fastest growing gang population and high unemployment rates. The whole world knows it because of the tragic murders of Chandra Levy and Lacy Peterson. It would seem that George Lucas is its lone bright spot.

Who would ever want to end up in such a place? Wouldn’t a more enlightened and sacred place such as Sedona, Mount Shasta, Machu Picchu or Tibet be a better locale for a story that explores the development of human potential?

My theory says no. Something about the difficulties of living in this area challenges its people to rise above it. It is easy to be positive and enlightened in Marin County—in Modesto, not so much. And yet, I have met and know some of the most amazing and enlightened people who live and are from Modesto. They are like flowers that manage to sprout and grow from hard, cold, unnourishing cement.

Sure, at first, I wanted to be inventive and place the story in a fictional space. That’s what being a writer is supposed to be about right? But I wanted Dream Walker to be grounded in reality even more and Modesto was the perfect environment for my heroine to grow and develop her abilities.

What’s your writing process and how do approach revisions?

My first draft is an outline, a very, very rough outline. I have multiple characters with different goals and weaving them together is easier for me if I have a general pattern to follow. I see the outline as a skeleton, some bones I can build flesh around as I write.

Having an outline also helps if I get stuck in a scene. I can choose another scene in the outline to tinker with while the previous chapter incubates a little more. Sometimes taking your mind off of what it is focused on allows epiphany room for its two cents.

My outline is by no means set in stone. About halfway through the first draft of Dream Walker, a character told me they were a different person than my outline expected them to be and I had to go back and rework the plot to make them who they said they were. That also changed the plot moving forward, so I reworked the outline accordingly.

As for revisions, many writers will tell you to write your first draft all the way through, then go back and do revisions. There is wisdom in that. It is really easy to get caught up in a never-ending process of revising. A chapter can ALWAYS be better!

Needless to say, I do not follow that wisdom. I revise a chapter as soon as the first draft of it is done. I print it out, read it through, and bleed on it in red ink. I have to get my chapters solid before I can move forward. By the time I finished “the first draft” of Dream Walker and started revising it as a whole, it was probably a fourth draft.

What is the hardest part about writing for you?

Oh geez, there are so many things that are hard about it: the isolation and loneliness of the process, the constant battle with self-doubt.

But probably the hardest part of it for me was working it into my jam-packed schedule. I am a single mother and I work full-time as a 911 dispatcher. My workday is 11 hours long, plus I have a two hour per day commute. And of course there are the details of living that get in the way: laundry, housecleaning, grocery shopping, and taking care of two dogs, two cats and a goldfish. Finding the time and energy to sit down and write was incredibly challenging.

If I don’t sit down first thing when I wake up, I get distracted by all the other things I have to do. It requires an extreme dedication and a blind eye to the cat hair clumped on the carpet.

Writing is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Giving birth to my children was 100 times easier.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and how do you deal with it?

Constantly. Every day is writers block. Each time I sit down, there is a cliff in front of me. What words to use? What happens next? How do I convey this idea? The only thing that breaks through that is tapping on the keys—just starting, even if it is nonsense. After about 20 minutes a flow gets going that is contagious and sometimes hard to keep up with.

There are times that the block is severe and I can’t move forward at all. I have come to accept that that is my intuition telling me I am not on the right track with what I have written, that something is off in my story. Taking a break and allowing some space for inspiration to provide a solution always works. A nap, a walk, a hot bath, are all distractions I use to get through the thicker blocks.

You chose to self publish your novels. How did you reach that decision and what were some of your reasons for not going the traditional route?

The whole process of writing Dream Walker has been an intuitive one for me, following inspiration and my gut feelings. From the beginning I was drawn toward the path of self publishing. But after I finished Dream Walker, my head got in the way.

I had a fear that I wouldn’t be considered legitimate as a novelist if I didn’t try to go traditional by querying agents and finding a “real” publisher. I felt that I was taking the easy way—coward’s way—afraid of rejection slips and taking my licks. So I started checking the boxes on the “traditional route” task list so I could prove myself.

But each step on that path was like the worst case of writer’s block I ever had. Every move I made in the Trad direction was like walking through sludge. I had zero enthusiasm for it. It seemed all wrong. So I started researching self publishing again.

It is such an exciting time to be a writer! The opportunities and services supporting independent authors are abundant and incredible; workshops, websites, books and blogs specifically geared toward the indie author.  It was like the printing press was just now created and the only one deciding if something gets published or not is the writer! I started getting super excited again about taking the D.I.Y. path.

Yes, it is a lot of work. It means I have to manage the production of my book; setting it up for the printing press, converting it for Kindle and Nook, and dealing with the distributors directly.  It also means I have to market and promote the book myself. I created my own website. I write my own press releases. I arrange my own book launch and blog tour and build my own author platform. Plus, I am in charge of both quality control and the professionals that I hire to assist me in making my product the best it can be.

And on top of all that, I have to write the next book in the series.

So why would I do this Indie thing? Who in their right mind would take all that on? Wouldn’t it be easier to attempt to go Traditional and have someone else do it?

Well, it turns out that most of those tasks would end up on my to-do list anyway. Apparently, the agent gets you the publisher, the publisher prints your book and the rest is up to you. Especially if this is your first time to the rodeo, like me. The likes of Stephen King and James Patterson may get a little more than that. Maybe.

Second, I get to retain the rights to my book. If I got picked up by a traditional publisher they would want to retain the electronic and movie rights to Dream Walker. Sorry, but retaining those rights is important to me. I have a vision, damn it! It involves the Oscars and Tom Cruise.

And rather than the 17.5% royalty a traditional publisher would let me have for my e-book, I get 65-70% by going to the distributor directly. Being that I wrote 100% of the book, I think that is fair.

What sealed the deal for me was a story a friend of mine shared about another author. She scored an agent after six months of pitching and querying. Three months after that her agent found her a publisher. She was thrilled to announce that her book would be available for her fans to read in January of 2014, two years and 2 months from the time of her announcement!

I was like, “Oh, hell no! Three of my books could be available to read by then!”

That’s when I committed to the Independent, Self Publishing Plan of Action for Shannan Sinclair and Dream Walker.

I immediately went to CreateSpace and assembled my paperback. That took about 2 hours. I uploaded it to their server in 20 minutes. Twelve hours later, I ordered my proof and two days later, my paperback was on my doorstep. And as soon as I approve my proof, within 12 hours  it will be available to my readers.  No waiting 2 to 3 years to hold my book in my hands or have people read it.

That was the ultimate deciding factor in going Indie: the visceral rush in having control over my vision and the speed with which I see the results of my work.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I suppose every writer writes a book with an underlying message to their readers, a lesson or a moral.

First and foremost, I wanted to write an entertaining, interesting and compelling story. I want my readers to get caught up in the adventure. If that is all they get out of it, I am thrilled.

But yes, for others there are many underlying questions. What is the true nature of reality and consciousness? Is our mind really only contained to our brain? Is it possible that space/time/dimension travel, although not yet something we do on a physical level, something we have always done through consciousness?

My characters explore these questions and answer them in different ways. My readers will have to do the same.

Are any of the experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

They say, “write what you know” and for me that meant writing the weird. Some of the situations are, indeed, loosely based on a few events in my own life.

At a very young age, I began experiencing many strange and extraordinary paranormal events, from dream travels, such as my protagonist experiences, to the haunting of my childhood home. I even had the pleasure of a couple of UFO sightings.

As the years progressed, I began to experience psychic phenomena such as premonitions, telepathy, clairvoyance and clairaudience. These occurrences continued to increase and my traditional paradigm couldn’t explain them. This sent me on a quest for knowledge and understanding about the ephemeral phenomena I was experiencing firsthand.

After twenty years of studying mysticism, holistic theology, philosophy and quantum theory, I wanted to weave those concepts with some of my own experiences.

So, what are you working on now?

Outlining Book 2 of the Walker Saga, of course! I hope to have it finished and published by Summer 2013!

Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most?

I was a voracious reader as a child. I always had my nose in a book. Summer vacations were the best! I lounged by our pool devouring one book after another, sometimes reading up to two a day.

In sixth grade it was all about the historical romances. I read my mother’s and grandmother’s hand-me-downs: The Proud Breed, The Thorn Birds, Rizpah, and Gone With The Wind.  Then I moved on to Ken Follett’s early spy novels which instilled in me a love of the dark hero.

Margaret Atwood is an enormous inspiration to me. Her stories and characters linger with me long after I finish the book. I have given away over a dozen copies of The Handmaid’s Tale, it scared me so.

What books are you reading now?

Sadly, not much. I am too busy writing. There is a stack on my nightstand and in my Nook calling out to me though.

I was able to fit in Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin recently, but other than that if it isn’t research related to Dream Walker, I am not reading.

Do you see writing as a career?

It is my dream to actualize writing as a full time career. I would simply love to spend my days writing novels, but right now, I have to shelter my family and put food on the table and writing isn’t providing that for me. YET. May the whole world buy my books so I can write more of them!

Do you have any advice for other writers you’d like to share?

I have a whole list of lessons learned and I add to it daily. Here are my top ten:

1. Write first thing when you get up. FIRST THING. If I get started on housework, or my mom calls, or the cat meows, I’m a goner. As soon as my mind is going 1,000 mph in the direction of life, stepping into my fiction becomes nearly impossible. When I try, it takes an hour of writing before I find a flow. If I am at the laptop after my first cup of coffee, I can get right into it.

2. Never underestimate the power of a pen and a notebook. Inspiration strikes at the weirdest freakin’ times! On the toilet, in the shower, at the grocery store, and especially in my car during my commute. Jotting epiphanies in a spiral bound notebook has lead to great paragraphs.

I think writing long hand, accesses a different part of your brain. It is sometimes easier to channel the muse through my left hand, than through my fingers on a keyboard.

3. Take naps. When I hit a block, it feels like a smashed my skull into a brick wall. I get an overwhelming urge to go completely unconscious. When I start feeling  that sensation, I lay down for 30 minutes and take a nap. Giving myself permission to nap has been a breakthrough.

4. Create a Playlist for your novel. I have a playlist created just for this novel. It includes songs for the whole story, for specific scenes within the story, and for specific characters. When I am stuck, or uninspired, or in a funk, putting on a song creates a mood, reminds me of a character and puts me right into the story.

5. Eat. Pray. Write. Vocabulary, grammar, structure and plot need nourishment. My synapses do not fire when my stomach growls. I must eat!

I also like to set the mood for writing by lighting a candle or a stick of incense. I touch  base with my little “writing” totems I have on my desk; a large rainbow onyx stone, a jade turtle and mother of pearl butterfly that belonged to my grandmothers, who both inspired me to read, and a couple of found objects that inspired Dream Walker in some way.

I say a prayer…asking to be open to hearing the muse. I feel I am in cooperation with the Universe in creating this tome, so it is vital to my process to say hello and then listen to that voice.

Then I write. Sometimes if I am frustrated about work or family issues, I get out a pen and vent on a sheet of paper. It gets the muck out. When I feel my story again, I write my story.

6. Don’t Hate. I did not realize how much I could hate myself until I started writing a book. Oh, I get down on myself for looking old, or having a big butt, or for being too rude to someone, but these are nothing compared to the loathing and belittling my left brain has lashed upon my right brain about my writing. If you find yourself in a “You suck” diatribe toward yourself, stop. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t hate…just write.

Don’t judge the first crap you put on the page. It’s like moving to a new house. You get all the boxes of your stuff open and everything is a horrible, disjointed mess. It’s the same with a book. At first the sequence may be off…it may sound flat and colorless. But when you go back through it a second time, clean, spruce and rearrange a bit, it starts to have flavor. JUST THINK WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE WHEN YOU DO THE SECOND DRAFT! It’ll be freakin’ AWESOME!

7. Find friends that will remind you that what you are doing is worthwhile and valid. Having good, supportive friends who are totally looking forward to reading my sucky, first FINISHED novel… keeps me writing.

Join a writer’s group. I was really intimidated by this at first. The idea of sitting down with writers more experienced than I, then  having them read and critique my chapters, scared the crap out of me. If it does you, too,  feel the fear and do it anyway! The feedback, networking and support is invaluable!

8.  Find some  published  authors and pick their brains! Other people have walked  the writer’s way, traveling from unknown hack to published author. I found myself a few of them, met them for coffee and chicken dinners, listened to their horror stories and followed their advice.

9. Establish a web presence. Uuuuugh! Right? Who wants to spend all their time facebooking, blogging and twittering? I know. I get it.

BUT! I have been amazed by  how many  contacts I have made in such a short time and the information I have found via social media. Especially from Twitter, which really surprised me. I was never a tweep before and now I am hooked.

10. Reading about other writers’ processes does not help. Although I have wanted to pick up the phone and call Steven King, Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oats and ask a million questions about how they do it and what their challenges are, I am sure I would find that what works for them ~ would not work for me.

They may not outline first and just start writing away…I found I had to do an outline first.

They don’t hold down full time jobs AND write…they just write. So they can’t tell me anything about fitting the craft into a 50 hour work schedule. I’ve got to bear that cross on my own and figure it out.

They may have hard, fast rules that don’t fit my personality at all. So my rules, and processes are going to be unique just to me. I get to discover those quirks as I write along.

In other words, everything I just said above, toss! In writing, you are going to create and break your own rules! Enjoy the process.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Another passion of mine is something called Soul Journaling. It is a mixture of normal journal writing and art. It is a colorful, expressive, spontaneous, evolving space to express dreams, ideas, and desires. My Soul Journal pages include finger painting, collage, image transfers, journal writing, lettering and doodling. Anything goes! The freedom of allowing the Creative to spill and play upon the paper is meditative and transformative. It is especially helpful when I am stuck with my writing or when distractions and frustrations are in the way of my thoughts.

Soul Journaling is a way I communicate with a deeper part of myself, a part I don’t give regular voice to because my rational ego brain is always trying to micromanage my life.

Writing is most often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?

Being a 911 dispatcher and sitting for 11 hour shifts, only to come home and spend even more time sitting to write, means getting the body moving is an absolute necessity.

I love to stick tunes in my ears and take walks. It is a great was to brainstorm and incubate ideas for my book.

Also, I am pretty fanatical about Zumba. I get so into the music and the dancing I forget it is actual exercise.

So, Shannan, name three things always found in your refrigerator :-)

The three White Food staples. Mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese. I will put them on anything. I will eat them with a spoon just to get my daily recommended dose. It keeps the booty looking J-Lo.

You’re in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Venti drip. No room. I go full throttle when it comes to my caffeine.

What’s currently in your iPod?

Not much anymore. I never thought I would give up on my iPod, but I mostly stream Spotify now. It allows me to explore and not commit to a purchase.

My “Dream Walker Playlist” is in heavy rotation. It is full of songs that remind me of my characters and the plot of Dream Walker. Skrillex, Bass Nectar and anything dubstep really tunes me in. I have posted links to my Spotify playlist and videos of my musical inspirations on my website so readers can tap into the audio wavelengths of the novel along with me.

Download Three Sample Chapters of Dream Walker

Buy DreamWalker

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